High administrative costs may have a negative impact on research and teaching at higher education institutions

The number of managers and high-skilled administrative staff has increased drastically in Swedish universities and colleges since the turn of the century. It is not clear why. But if this trend continues, it may have a negative impact on the research and teaching carried out at Swedish higher education institutions, argues economist Anders Kärnä in a new SNS report.

Between 2004 and 2019, the number of employees in the group of highly trained administrative staff and managers at Swedish universities and colleges increased by two-thirds, from 6,000 to 10,000 individuals. During the same period, the number of teachers and researchers remained at a fairly stable level, despite the fact that the number of students increased by about 10 percent. As a result, the number of students per teacher increased, whereas the number of students per administrator decreased.

“It is hard to say exactly what has brought on these increases in administrative costs, but these employees do have relatively high salaries. There is thus a risk that this development will drain universities and colleges of the funds needed for teaching and research,” says Anders Kärnä, researcher in economics at Örebro University.

There are fewer and fewer secretaries and administrative assistants at universities and colleges, Kärnä highlights while calling for a study of how this affects productivity. Fewer highly educated individuals should be recruited to the administration of higher education institutions, he argues in the SNS report Administration in higher education.

Kärnä also discusses the significance of political governance with regard to this development. During this period, there were increasing demands that higher education institutions should interact more with society at large, which may be a partial explanation behind the increased number of communications officers. In addition, teaching and research now need to integrate sustainability and gender perspectives, promote internationalization and recruit more students with non-academic backgrounds.

“Despite all good intentions, the overall effect may be an increased amount of administration requiring resources. Old rules are rarely abolished when new ones are added,” says Anders Kärnä.

He calls on politicians to be careful when increasing the demands and regulations facing universities and colleges. This, Kärnä cautions in the report, may in the long run lead to less funding for education and research.

about the author

Anders Kärnä is a researcher in economics at Örebro University and works at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).